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Spartans triumph over Penn State on Senior Day

Team heading to Big Ten Tournament on heels of 9-2 weekend win

May 20, 2012
Senior shortstop Justin Scanlon hits the ball during the game against Penn State on May 19, 2012 at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field. The Spartans beat Penn State 9-2. Julia Nagy/The State News
Senior shortstop Justin Scanlon hits the ball during the game against Penn State on May 19, 2012 at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field. The Spartans beat Penn State 9-2. Julia Nagy/The State News —
Photo by Julia Nagy | and Julia Nagy The State News

Entering the weekend, the MSU baseball team had aspirations of earning the No. 2 seed and the accompanying first-round bye in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, as well as hopes of securing an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.

After MSU dropped two of three games in its final series of the regular season against Penn State, the Spartans were locked into the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament and a date with No. 4-seed Nebraska on Wednesday, while their NCAA Regional hopes took a serious blow.

Late-game home runs doomed the Spartans in their first two games before winning 9-2 Saturday on Senior Day at McLane Baseball Stadium at Old College Field.

“They showed a lot of character today and they have all year,” head coach Jake Boss Jr. said Saturday. “I’m proud of them. I’m glad to send our seniors out on a high note. It’s a special thing for these guys to play out here, and I think they realize that, so it’s neat when you can send them out with a victory.”

The Spartans saw their 2-1 lead in game one nullified by a two-run homer in the eighth inning from one of the best hitters in the Big Ten in Penn State’s Jordan Steranka. MSU maintained a small lead the entire game prior to Steranka’s home run, despite stranding 10 base runners throughout the game.

In his final home start, senior pitcher Tony Bucciferro struck out nine in 6.2 innings of work in the 3-2 loss.

Friday’s game two saw the Nittany Lions build a 4-1 lead heading into the seventh inning on a day in which junior pitcher Andrew Waszak was rattled in the early innings. In addition, MSU struggled to finish innings, allowing six two-out hits in the game.

The Spartans clawed their way back to take the lead after a four-run seventh before they saw déjà vu Friday afternoon.

Penn State brought in the tying run in the eighth, and another late bomb — this time from Joey DeBernardis — crushed MSU in the top of the ninth.

MSU atoned both of its one-run losses on Saturday by riding the arm of sophomore pitcher David Garner, who tied his career high with nine strikeouts, and blowing out the Nittany Lions, 9-2.

Early on, it appeared the last game might mirror the story line of the first two games, as a DeBernardis two-run homer gave Penn State a 2-0 advantage in the top of the first inning. That would be the first and last time the Nittany Lions cracked the scoreboard in this game, as Garner settled into a groove.

“When DeBernardis got that (home run), believe it or not, that helped me.” Garner said. “Being able to realize that you can’t leave that pitch up to hitters like that, (or) they’ll hit it a mile.”

The Spartans out-hit Penn State 10-3 in game three, led by junior second baseman Ryan Jones. Jones went two-for-four with three runs batted in on Saturday while junior catcher John Martinez also added a pair of hits to pace the Spartans on offense.

“We’re a confident team, and we’ve been like that all year, and we know we can play with anybody if we play well,” Jones said. “We’re ready to go, going into the tournament next week.”

MSU takes on Nebraska in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament at 12:05 p.m. Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, with the lowest seed from the first two games — which includes the 3:35 p.m. matchup between No. 3-seed Penn State and No. 6-seed Ohio State — earning a duel with regular season champion Purdue on Thursday. All tournament games will be aired on Big Ten Network.

“I think we’re deeper on the mound than we were a year ago,” Boss said. “The bullpen will be well rested by Wednesday … we can play different matchups offensively but we’re going to have
to execute.”

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